Atlanta Hawks Offer Arena to Help City Plagued by Voter Suppression Claims

Voting in Atlanta during Georgia's primary runoff elections and the 2020 Presidential Election will look somewhat different after the Atlanta Hawks' plan to turn their home arena into a massive polling station received the green light.

On Monday, the Fulton County Registration and Elections Board approved the Hawks' proposal to use State Farm Arena as a voting station during the Georgia's runoff primary on August 11 as well as for early voting in the general election, which is scheduled on November 3.

The Hawks first pitched the idea when protests exploded in Atlanta in the wake of George Floyd's death in police custody in Minneapolis on May 25 and local voting authorities didn't need much convincing.

"It took me about a nanosecond to understand what a big deal that would be for us here in Fulton County running this upcoming election, given the challenges that we had," said Robb Pitts, chairman of the Fulton County board of commissioners.

Earlier this month, voting during Georgia's primaries was beset by a series of logistical problems. Problems with new voting machines forced voters to wait in long lines and cast provisional ballots, hardly a positive omen ahead of November's presidential elections when the state could be a battleground between Donald Trump and Joe Biden.

At the time, the office of Georgia's secretary of state Brad Raffensperger attributed the problems on a host of different factors, ranging from staff having to learn how to use new voting machines and a lack of experienced poll workers due to the novel coronavirus pandemic.

Raffensperger admitted the situation in DeKalb and Fulton counties was "unacceptable", but insisted the rest of the state had coped well.

"We have reports of poll workers not understanding setup or how to operate voting equipment," Jordan Fuchs, the deputy secretary of state, was quoted as saying by The New York Times.

"While these are unfortunate, they are not issues of the equipment but a function of counties engaging in poor planning, limited training and failures of leadership."

In the aftermath of the June 9 elections, 2016 Democratic presidential candidate Hilary Clinton suggested the voting issues in Atlanta amounted to "voter suppression," which was "a threat to our democracy".

Disenfranchisement has long been an issue for voters in Georgia, particularly in predominantly African-American precincts.

The social distancing measures in place because of coronavirus could further deter voters, particularly should they endure long queues for several hours.

Hawks head coach Lloyd Pierce said the issues of voter suppression had played a major role in convincing the franchise to turn the arena into a voting station.

"When we saw what we saw on June 9, it was extremely clear that we have a real issue in the state of Georgia and especially here in Atlanta," he was quoted as saying by ESPN.

"And we felt we had an opportunity to do something special. It was encouraging that we were able to think outside of the box and speak this idea into existence."

Antony Ressler, the franchise's majority owner, echoed Pierce's stance.

"Making State Farm Arena the safest, most efficient and largest polling location in Georgia—and maybe the country—we thought was a really cool idea that helps Atlanta be a model for a great voting experience rather than what hasn't, shall we say, been a model recently," he said.

The franchise added that voters will be not be charged for parking and that it will cover the costs for turning the arena into a voting facility, including compensation for its full-time and part-time staff that will be involved in the operation.

Pierce added that he hoped the initiative won't be a one-off and that fellow NBA teams will follow the example set by the Hawks.

"We reached out to the county, and they were on board. The next thing you know, we're the first city to have an arena host a voting site," he said.

"So I really want to encourage all the other 28 other coaches."

State Farm Arena, Atlanta Hawks
State Farm Arena, home of the Atlanta Falcons basketball team and WNBA Atlanta Dream basketball team in Atlanta, Georgia on July 28, 2019. The arena will serve as a voting station during the 2020 presidential elections. Raymond Boyd/Getty